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Frison, who is waiting outside the building flanked by several school district police officers, smiles and shakes Guzman’s hand as journalists swarm them and shout out for comments. Guzman tells Frison, "We’re here for a reason. We have a petition. We want to turn McKinley into a better school." She then asks Frison for a written receipt for the signatures, and an aide to Frison promptly returns with one.
Guzman holds the receipt in the air and several parents and their children cheer and began chanting, "Yes we can! Yes we can!"
Frison says district officials will comment later Tuesday. But already, people in Fresno, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose have called the Parent Revolution for help. Michelle Rhee, the outspoken reformer who closed failing Washington D.C. schools and is now launching her own $1 billion school reform group, has given advice to the Parent Revolution and met with the Compton parents. A year from now the group hopes to be on campuses at 10 to 15 failing schools in California.
For the first time perhaps in U.S. history, parents are poised to take over and turn around a failing public school on their own terms. And 74 more such takeovers will be allowed under the new California law.
"The balance of power in decision-mmaking is shifted to include not only educators but parents," says Priscilla Wohlstetter, visiting professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and professor at USC’s Rossier School of Education.
These parent pioneers may not only shake up California but send shock waves across the nation. Former Obama chief of staff and Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel has announced that if elected, he wants to set up a Parent Trigger in Chicago.
"I can't ... ask for parental involvement," Emanuel explained to the Chicago Sun-Times, "if I'm not doing things to encourage it."
For image-battered teachers unions, it opens a new battlefront. "Anyone with any knowledge of education would be against it," assures California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman. He attacks the Parent Trigger as a "charade" — a way for California legislators and campaign contributors to weaken unions while pushing a "corporate agenda."
But Compton parents are on an entirely different wavelength from union honchos like Hittelman.
"I want them to have more success in life. I want to change the cycle," says Guzman, one of the 15 Compton parent leaders. Her daughter is a first-grader at McKinley; her son is attending a Watts charter high school.
"My son is going to be the first generation to go to college," Guzman says. "He'll be the first person in the family. I want them to have more than I have."
Behind a wrought-iron fence, inside a white house in a rough Compton neighborhood, Guzman, an amiable woman whose family moved to Boyle Heights from Mexico when she was 2, sits on a green couch with other McKinley Elementary School parents, ready to tackle the day’s agenda.
With the help of Parent Revolution staffers, they are trying to decide which day to drop the petition on Compton Unified School District board members Mae Thomas, Micah Ali, Fred Easter, Emma Sharif and Marjorie Shipp.
Guzman attended school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, graduated and took online classes at Kaplan University. She never got a college diploma — not that she or her family could afford the tuition. But, she says, "My parents didn’t push me all the way." Guzman now is determined to be an influential force in her children's education. Her kids need a solid early education so they can attend a reputable university. For her, taking over and improving McKinley must happen now.
"It's going to be a big impact for everybody," Guzman says.
She's tired of promises from Compton Unified — led by board president Mae Thomas and acting superintendent Frison — who tell her McKinley Elementary's dismal academics will be fixed soon. "They're saying four years from now it's going to be at the top," Guzman says. "But in four years my daughter isn't going to know anything. We need to do something now."
A little after 9 a.m., DeTemple, the former Obama insider, calls the meeting to order. His deputy, Gabe Rose, and his professional field organizers — Mary Najera, Shirley Ford, Christina Sanchez, Rosamaria Segura and Yuritzy Anaya — are sitting between nine or 10 parents. Christina Sanchez translates DeTemple's remarks into Spanish. With the exception of one black mother, the other parents are Latino. The student population at McKinley Elementary is roughly 60 percent Latino and 40 percent African-American.
Shemika Murphy, the black mother, has a 7-year-old daughter, who is struggling with reading. She explains, "I want my children to go to college — and it starts now. I know if my daughter has problems reading now, it’s going to affect her later." Like several other parents here, she speaks of "breaking the cycle."
A small, somewhat shy woman with long black hair stands before them. Her name is Lorena, and she is hosting today's meeting at her home. She moved to the Los Angeles area from Mexico more than 20 years ago because the United States offered better opportunities. Now, she says in Spanish, "The door to my house is always open."